County optimistic about reservoir levels

By Mark Freeman

For the Tidings

An aggressive winter-long filling schedule and recent rain and snow-storms have improved the chances that Jackson County's two largest reservoirs will fill this spring for the eighth-consecutive year.

Water levels in Lost Creek and Applegate reservoirs now sit well below their normal mid-March levels, but U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials believe there's enough snow in the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains to fill the lakes by May 1.

"Even though we're low, we're still seeing a good possibility of filling and we'restill thinking May 1," said Jim Buck, the Corps' Rogue Basin project manager.

"But if we get two or three weeks of great weather, that doesn't help us," Buck said.

Temperatures rose to a balmy 67 degrees in Medford Thursday, when Lost Creek Lake was 11 feet below the surface elevation in the Corps' schedule for filling the 460,000- acre-foot reservoir. Applegate Lake was 16¾ feet shy of what is considered its normal surface elevation for March 12.

Both reservoirs have filled annually since 2001, when drought left Lost Creek Lake 22 feet from full, Buck said.

A thin snow pack in the Siskiyous and more catch-up at Applegate Lake mean it's less likely to reach its full 78,000-acre-foot capacity than Lost Creek Lake, Buck said.

"If the current conditions continue, then we probably won't fill at Applegate, but there would still be a good chance of filling at Lost Creek — unless things really dry out," Buck said.

A full Lost Creek Lake typically means plenty of supplemental summer water in the Rogue River for salmon and steelhead through August.

Seeing the reservoir inch upward toward an expected full pool helps Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists create water-release schedules to aid fisheries. Fish management and flood control are the two primary purposes of the dams.

"The ODFW is just as interested in seeing that reservoir level at full pool as everyone else, including the Corps," said Tom Satterthwaite, an ODFW research biologist who has worked in the Rogue Basin for almost 30 years.

Recent storms boosted the snow pack in the Rogue and Umpqua basins to 93 percent of average on Thursday, according to the National Resources Conservation Service.

Lost Creek Lake was more than 28 feet shy of full Thursday, while Applegate was listed as 60 feet shy of full.

Water levels would have been worse had the Corps and ODFW not worked out a plan to cut Lost Creek dam releases into the upper Rogue.

That arrangement allowed the lake to capture as much of the inflow as possible without drying out the eggs nests of wild spring chinook in the main upper Rogue channel, Satterthwaite said.

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